Friday, January 30, 2015

Retirement Blues

Fog in the trees
January 30th, 2015


I like to say that being retired means that I have no one to answer to for the way I spend my time.  But of course, this isn't strictly speaking true.  Ultimately I have to answer to myself.  I set myself some goals, just to make sure I don't sit around all day and get nothing accomplished, but lately, all that seems to do is make me depressed.  For instance, I wanted to make sure I had something new to say every Tuesday and Friday in this blog.  That hasn't happened for a couple of weeks.  So I ask myself, if I don't really have anything to say, isn't it best just to shut up?

I promised myself that I would work on my photography every day, but even there I sometimes find that I'll take one more picture of the trees outside the house, just so I can say I kept my promise by clicking the shutter.  This isn't helping me learn anything new, nor is it improving my skills.  It's just one more set of pixels, or mega-pixels, on a memory card.

The Moon in late afternoon
January 29th, 2015


Finally, I said I would get back to weaving and do at least one project a month.  There's the makings of a lovely project on my main loom, but it's moving very slowly, and I'm having a hard time motivating myself to actually sit at the loom and work.  I know that once the loom is completely dressed and ready for me to weave, the weaving itself will go quickly and provide its own motivation.  But I'm not there yet.  Today, just so that I could say I had actually completed a project in January, I grabbed the first loom I ever had, and also some yarn.  I'm not particularly proud of the open weave mug rug I made, but hey, it's a weaving project, and it did give me a somewhat jaded sense of accomplishment.

My first loom
(As a child, I used sock yarn loops to make pot holders)
January 30th, 2015

The one thing I have been keeping up is my reading.  I set a goal to read seventy-five books in 2015, and so far I've completed twelve.   That means that I'm almost a whole month ahead of myself.  But reading has always been my first love.  I have no doubt that I'll easily read seventy-five books this year, so I've added a challenge to myself, one suggested by my dear friend Vaun Stevens.  I'm doing the Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge, so at least twenty-four of those books won't be the light and frivolous mysteries I can read in one day.  One of the suggested challenges is to read a book of poetry, so at present I'm reading Guillaume Appolinaire's Alcools which collection contains my all-time favorite poem, Le Pont Mirabeau.  I should finish the collection on or before February 1st, then it will be on to something else.  Who knows what just yet.

Green wool mug rug being taken off the loom
January 30th, 2015

But I know I have to stop being so hard on myself.  Just go with the flow and what gets done, gets done.  What doesn't, doesn't matter.  There's always tomorrow--at least until there isn't.  And tonight!  Ah, tonight!  I'm going to the Llano Theater to see Into the Woods with Meryl Streep as the witch and Johnny Depp as the Wolf.  (After all, all good fairy tales take you into the woods where you usually have to deal with either a witch or a wolf, right?)


The completed mug rug
January 30th, 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Dog in the Life

In my last post, I used a weaving term, "dog on the loom," and mentioned how I felt that was demeaning to dogs.  Dogs have been a part of my life almost from the beginning.  I can't really imagine not having dogs around, although there are times when I claim that life would be easier without them.  Easier, perhaps, but not nearly as fulfilling.

Dinah, the Ur-MinPin with Me on my Skates
Early 1950s, Laurel, Montana

When I was a small child, my parents decided that every boy should have a dog.  For some reason they headed over to the Paradise Valley south of Livingston and picked up a small black dog that had just been weaned.  I do not remember any time without Dinah in my early life, but apparently I was old enough to talk as the story I grew up with is that my parents asked me to name the pup and I said "Dinah."  I guess someone else in our acquaintance had a black dog with that name.  Dinah curled up on the floor at my mother's feet and rode the 100+ miles home to Laurel without any complaint.  That did it.  She was not my dog, but my mothers from that point on.

Dinah was a fierce protector though.  The thing about Miniature Pinschers is that they have absolutely no idea how small they really are.  Bred originally as ratters, they can be absolutely fearless.  Dinah would take on any dog that dared to come near our home, and once, on top of Skalkaho Pass, she took on a bear.  Mother thought we'd lost the dog at that point, but no, the bear took off for the tall timber rather than face such a concentrated bundle of fury.

She lived for fifteen years, and when she died, Mother said "No more.  I can't take it."  That was in the mid 1960s.  In 1969, after a month in Montana with my friend John, I returned with Hans, a purebred Keeshond, in the car.  Mother took one look at Hans and said, "That's a nice dog you have, John."  When John replied, "He's not my dog, Mrs. Spellman," Mother came back with "Oh yes he is, John, because he's not ours."  But, sure enough, I moved into an apartment in Berkeley, and Hans stayed with my parents.  When I moved to Montana, I wanted to bring Hans with me, but Mother said no.  "He's my dog!"

Gotta Love the Hair
Sandra Stedinger, Me, and Yazzie
Cross Country Skiing at Chief Joseph Pass, Montana
Winter 1976

Living in Montana, in a log cabin in the woods, I had to have a dog, and since Hans was still in California with Mother, Animal Control in Missoula furnished me with a Cairn Terrier with the very un-Scottish name of Yazzie.  Yazzie might have had a Navajo name (Yazzie means little in the Diné language), but he was a true Scotsman, er dog.  Whenever we would march with the Scottish Heritage Society in various parades, Yazzie would walk along patiently until the pipes started playing.  Then he would puff out his chest, raise his head, and proudly strut down the avenue as long as the pipes played.

Jr. was my first "second" dog.  My partner at the time, Forrest Moon, had brought his dog with him into the family.  Crescent Moon was a pure-bred Chinese Crested, but one of the throwbacks that is fully furred.  I wanted another MinPin, but Forrest was afraid of Doberman and wanted nothing that even remotely appeared to be one.  When we learned that our friend Tom Freeman had a pregnant bitch, we went to visit after the pups were born.  Mother, Little Bit, was a miniature shepherd, and the supposed father was a MinPin.  There were five puppies in the litter: two black and rust MinPins, two tiny Shepherds, and one, the runt of the litter, that was all white expect for one red ear and a red ring around the opposite eye.  We immediately said "That's our dog!"  and when Tom called us to say "Your dog's ready," we raced to St. Ignatius and brought him home.  We named him Jr. and allowed as that name could be read as either "Junior" or "J.R."  My life with Jr. lasted longer than the relationship with Forrest, but Jr. developed cancer, and on a visit to California, I took him to my mother's vet who administered the shot that put him to sleep in my arms.  It was almost more than I could bear.

Baby Jr. on my shoulder
Late 1980s, Missoula, Montana

On the way home from that trip, I stopped at a rest area just north of Grants Pass, Oregon, and before I could get out of my truck, an Asian woman approached.  She was driving a large motor home and was having mechanical problems.  For some reason she figured I would know what was wrong, poor mistaken fool that she was, but I went over and climbed under her rig where I saw a hose just dangling.  I suggested that she return to Grants Pass rather than try to climb the mountains to Roseburg, and as I straightened up, I noticed several ribbons hanging from her mirror.  Turns out she was in the business of raising and showing Miniature Pinschers.  We had a brief conversation about the breed, and when she learned that I had just had Jr. put down, she asked if I wanted another dog.  Long story short, when she got to Missoula for the Five Valleys Kennel Club Show in June, I picked up Speedy, a beautiful stag red MinPin who became the new love of my life.

From that time till now there has not been a moment without dogs in my life.  While living with Speedy, I learned of a dog over in Wallace, Idaho, that needed a new home.  My partner Gary and I took Speedy with us and went to visit Faylene.  Speedy and Faylene played well together, and in another couple of weeks, there were four of us at home.  Then we got a call from our friend Lance who worked with the Bitterroot Humane Society in Hamilton, Montana.  They had a MinPin who needed a new home.  Gary and I drove to Hamilton, and adopted Rocky.  Both Faylene and Rocky developed diabetes, and needed to have insulin shots twice a day.  As we began preparations for a vacation trip to Puerto Vallarta, we needed to find someone who could administer those shots.  Finding someone to house/dog sit is one thing.  Finding someone willing to shoot your dog twice a day is another matter entirely.

A visit to the Missoula Humane Society got us a connection to someone who could do just that, and by the way, we have a MinPin here, would you like to see her?  One thing led to another, and that's when Minnie entered our lives.  We now had four Miniature Pinschers in the house, two with diabetes, and one the tiniest thing we'd ever seen (well, apart from Jr. when we first got him).  Minnie is still with us, the oldest of the now five MinPins who share our lives.  I fear that her time is almost over as she's at least fifteen years old now and is getting a bit feeble.  But spunk?  Boy does she have spunk.  Unfortunately, she does not really have any bladder control these days, so she has been banished from our bed.  (The other four still sleep with us.)  This morning, I took her into the shower with me and gave her a bath which she desperately needed.  While Kevin dried her off, I took my shower trying to get all the short black hairs off my body.  She smells better now, but it won't last.  Tonight, while she's asleep, she'll undoubtedly pee all over herself again.  She has trouble standing up, but she'll run across the room to be with me, and once outside, she runs all over the yard.  Did I say she has spunk?

Minnie after her bath
Plains, Montana
January 15th, 2015

The remainder of our pack?  There's Gypsy who came to live with me while I was in California looking after Mother during the last year of her life.  My profile picture for this blog shows me holding Gypsy on a southern Oregon beach.  I'll never forget the first time I put Gypsy on Mother's bed in the nursing home.  Momma looked at this small black dog and said, "Is that my Dinah?"  "No, Momma.  She just looks like Dinah."  Gypsy spent a lot of time at the nursing home with me.  Major came to us when a friend found him running loose in an industrial area.  We placed an ad, but no one responded, so he became our boy.  Harley was an owner turn in at the Bitterroot Humane Society.  He's a love, but he has moments when he turns into Cujo in seconds.  I'm sure that's why he was turned in, but my question is, what did that family do to make him so aggressive?  And finally, there's Rocky II, whom we saw at PetSmart in Missoula when we were going in to buy another 40 pound bag of Eukanuba.  Life Savers Animal Rescue from Polson was there with various dogs available for adoption.  What can I say, Rocky left with us.

I consider all of our dogs "rescues."  None came from a pet store or breeder.  If you have it in your heart to add an animal to your life, you can't beat taking a shelter animal into your home.  It will enrich your days more than anything you can imagine.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Weaving, Writing, Wreading--Wrestling With Wresolutions

A friend recently posted a joke on Facebook.  "I'm opening a gym called Resolutions.  On January 15th, it will become a bar."  Yep, that's about how long most New Year's Resolutions last.  I stopped making them years ago, because, after all, what's the point?  Instead, each year on my birthday, I'd stop, reflect on the year just past, and try to figure out where I wanted to be one year hence.  This past year, that did not happen.  My sixty-fifth birthday came and went, almost completely unnoticed.  Oh I got a few cards, and some presents, but for the most part the day was all but meaningless.  And maybe that's good too.  However, it did find me in late December wondering about 2015. 

View from the back patio
January 13th, 2015

It's now the thirteenth of January, two days before the dreaded mid month "I'm just giving up" day.  I'm not giving up, but I do have concerns.  First, I hope this post doesn't end up being a thousand words of complaint.  Nor do I mean to whine.  No one likes to be around either a whiner or a complainer.  Secondly, I wonder if I'm maybe being too hard on myself.  I'm retired.  I like to say that being retired means that you answer to no one for your time.  That's not quite true.  I still have to answer to myself.  So, what have I decided to do with 2015 and how's it going so far?  I thought you'd never ask.

If you know me at all, you know that I'm a reader.  I love reading, and have for as far back as I can remember.  As a child I preferred sitting in an armchair with a book to being outside trying (and failing) to catch a ball thrown at me.  Mind you, I love being outdoors--with a book.  I pushed my way through a bachelor's degree with a double major in three years.  Two years after receiving my BA, I had an MA attached to my name.  Toward the end of my undergraduate career, I filled out an application form for the Peace Corps.  At that time, you had to list your educational credits by field.  I found that I had 10 credits of English, 10 credits of History, 10 credits of Geography, 16 credits of Natural Science, and 150 credits of Language and Literature.  I had fulfilled my "Breadth Requirements" as they were called at U.C. Berkeley, but in retrospect, it sure doesn't look very broad to me.  As I approached the PhD, I came to realize that I had spent all this time studying because I loved to read.  I also came to realize that a love of reading and the way French Departments in the United States expected their students to study literature were actually antithetical endeavors.  I went ahead and finished the PhD, earning it in 1986, fourteen years after getting my M.A., but I never pursued becoming a professor of French Literature.  I just curled up in my chair and continued to read.  I said that the one salable skill I got out of Grad School was the ability to type, in two languages.

North Wall of Library
January 13th, 2015

When we moved out of Missoula, one of the things I looked for in every home we considered, was space for a library.  The home we bought had a blind room (no windows) measuring approximately 12 feet by 20 feet.  Perfect for a library.  After we moved, a friend introduced me to Librarything.com, and I began cataloging my collection.  To date, I have added 3,573 volumes to my personal library on that site, and I still have boxes of books to unpack.  There are currently five walls (in two rooms) in the new house that look like the picture above, and I have plans to add more shelving units in other rooms.  After all, as Montana Murphy Beds likes to remind us, the guest room is used on average two weeks out of the year.  As for any resolutions on reading, I decided to take the Librarything challenge to read 75 books in 2015.   With 365 days in the year, that means (see, I do know division, and more to the point how to use a calculator), one book every 4.86666 days.  As today is the 13th, I should have finished two and a half books by last night.  This morning, I finished book number six, although number five was barely more than a novella.  This afternoon, I'll start book number seven, rereading Joanne Harris's Five Quarters of the Orange.  Hey--it didn't say that we had to read 75 NEW books.

"Dog on the Loom"
January 13th, 2015

As for weaving, I've been doing that almost as long as I've been reading.  I have no idea why, but my parents bought me a square metal potholder loom sometime in my childhood.  I still have it today.  Shortly after moving to Missoula in 1975, I took an adult education class taught by Suzy Hampton on weaving.  That led me to Joseph's Coat in its early incarnation above Mammyth Bakery and the purchase of a beautiful maple LeClerc loom with eight harnesses and a 48" weaving width.  Over the years I've added several looms, and another advantage to the new house is a second blind room, almost the same size as the library, that I've set up as a weaving studio.  This should inspire me to get to work.  The sad fact is that it is all too easy to close the door and ignore that room.  In all of 2014 I spent 45 minutes at the loom.  When you have a project that just isn't working, and is tying up your loom, it's called a "dog on the loom."  Personally, I feel that this is a slur against dogs, and I can't blame the project on the big loom.  Yes, the project on loom #2 is a dog.  I dressed the loom with a nubbly yarn intending to make placemats, but once the yarn was ready to wind on the warp beam (and no, I'm not going to explain weaving terminology here), I found that the yarn was too heavy to go through the dents (openings) in the reed (spacer) and I couldn't wind it.  I found a suitable substitute yarn and planned to just tie on to the existing warp and then pull it back out the way I had originally put it on the loom.  Alas, that was before we moved, and the kids who packed up the house put my substitute yarn somewhere I have not yet found it.  So for two years, the loom has been sitting there looking like a mess as you can see in the photo above.  Loom #3 has a project on it that has languished even longer.  This is the loom I kept at the cabin, and when we sold the cabin, the loom ended up in a storage unit.  I've now lost the yarn I was using, and haven't yet got around to replacing it.  In 2015, I would like to weave at least a project a month, but if I'm going to do that, I need to get busy at it, don't I.

Writing.  Oh, writing.  I do like to write, and at least sometimes feel I have something to say.  As my regular readers know, back in the 1980s I had the great idea (I thought) of documenting Montana's 56 County Court Houses in a coffee table photo book.  With the advent of digital photography, that dream is getting close to becoming a reality, but with a slight twist.  Instead of just showing the court house building, I've expanded the scope so that each county is now represented by five photographs and a one-thousand word essay.  I've visited every county in the state at least three times, and have all the photographs I need (not to say that I have all the ones I want), and am putting it all together.  To date I have self-published two coffee table books, each showing fourteen counties, and have just finished writing about county 42, Carter County, which means that volume three is ready for editing prior to publishing.  These books cost me roughly $150 just to get one copy printed, so I don't expect people to run right out and buy my timeless prose.  That's why I've been putting the whole project on line as a second blog site.  I do plan on making the books available as e-books, however, as that will be an affordable option.  Whether anyone buys one or not is moot.  I'll have done my part.  Which brings me to my goals for 2015.  I will finish Glory of the West and have all four volumes in print and available as e-books.  I will also take this blog more seriously than I have in the past.  To those ends, I will write up one county a week, which means that I have fourteen weeks to go to get the blog finished.  April 18th is the target date to write up county #56, Lincoln County, finishing off the project's first phase.  Second phase is getting it published, one way or another, and I don't have a time frame for that.  But before 2015 is over, I will have the e-books available and will have four volumes in print in my own hands.  As for this blog, I started writing on December 29, 2006, and wrote three posts before the end of the year.  2007 was my most prolific year to date, with 62 posts written, over one a week.  Since then, it's been pretty sporadic.  In 2015 I intend to publish a post every Tuesday and every Friday.  Let's hope I find something worth saying.  If I miss a day, there will be a good reason, as last week when I published my blog Momma on her birthday, Saturday, instead of on Friday.  Feel free to hold me to my intention--if you've read this far.

Angel of Music Inspire Me to Play
January 13th, 2015

What remains?  Photography.  Music.  Travel.  Car Collection. Baking.  Housecleaning.  And most important, spending time with Kevin and the Kids.  Minnie is not doing well.  I doubt she'll make it through the year.  But I've said that every year for the past three years, so who knows.  I would like to improve my photography and Photoshop skills, and planned on posting one new photograph every day of the year, but I missed three days already.  It's grey and lifeless outside, and frankly, I'm tired of photographing turkeys and deer.  I love making music, but the organ bench is dusty, the piano is shut up with the looms, and my guitars, ukulele and dulcimer haven't been outside their cases in I don't know how long.  Travel?  Who knows.  It's hard to be away from home when you have five kids that can't travel with you and no one to leave behind to look after them.  Still I have hopes for some trips further afield than Missoula or Spokane.  And my car collection?  Will this be the year I start putting the Triumph Spitfire back together?  I'd settle for getting the brakes done on the Frazer.  I love my cars, but it seems a shame for them to just sit, reminding me every day about how I am mistreating them by ignoring them.  I am doing some baking.  Since Kevin gave up his bread route, I bake every loaf of bread that we eat.  And frankly, I hate cleaning the house.  I love having a clean house, but with everything else taking a higher priority, it just isn't going to happen if it depends on me.  Any volunteers?

1957 Studebaker Golden Hawk
One of my dream cars
January 13th, 2015

I hope your 2015 is going well and that you are enjoying family, friends, good health and fine food.  In the end, that's all that really matters, isn't it.  Blessings on you all.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Momma

The Road to Grandpa's Farm
Five Mile Run Road, Parkersburg, West Virginia
October 22, 2007

On Saturday, January 10th, 1914, Ethel Mae Stephens took her first breath at the family farm north of Parkersburg, West Virginia.  It was her mother's thirtieth birthday as Estella Espie McAtee was born on Thursday, January 10th, 1884 also in the Parkersburg area.  Grandma always said that momma was the best birthday present she ever received.  Momma was born on the family farm, off Five Mile Run Road, north of the city.  When I researched the property at the Wood County Court House, I was surprised to find that the farm passed from the Jesse Kincheloe family to my great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Stephens, née Phelps, and she in turn passed it on to my grandfather, Olin Orville Stephens.  Mother was the fourth of six children, and when she was three, just prior to my Uncle Virgil's birth, the family moved into town, moving to a house that I still think of as Grandma's house in the Beechwood section of Parkersburg.

Momma attended Parkersburg High School, and was proud of the education she received there.  Somewhere I have her senior year portrait, but apparently it's not scanned onto this machine, and I cannot find the large print I made and gave her for mother's day several years ago.  The print I worked from was in black and white, and when I scanned it originally, I gave it a sepia tone.  Mother's reaction, once she stopped crying, was to say "I thought that dress was blue."  How would I know?  I wasn't there at the time.

I believe my parents met when Mother was a senior.  I know the story about the blind date that led to a lifetime love affair, but other than the fact that Mother was 18 years old at the time, I really don't want to go into details.  Most of the pictures I have of her show the two of them together.  This shouldn't be a surprise as Mother lived with Poppa for 54 years, much longer than she lived with her parents, or alone after Poppa's death.

Poppa and Momma as a young married couple
No idea when or where this was taken

My parents were married on February 4, 1934, in Parkersburg, and for the first eight years of their marriage, they continued living there.  Poppa worked for Ames Baldwin Wyoming, and became foreman of the paint division at the shovel manufacturing plant there.  This position allowed my parents to build their own home in Vienna, West Virginia, a suburb of Parkersburg.  Poppa always said that the hardest thing he ever had to do in his life was ask Momma to give up their home so he could go to college.  Both my parents believed strongly in education, and Poppa had felt the call to the ministry, so they sold their home and moved to Buckhannon, West Virginia where both my parents attended West Virginia Wesleyan College.  Poppa graduated in three years, but Momma just completed two.  I'm not sure why, although my guess is that she didn't begin her classes right away.  When Poppa matriculated at Boston University School of Theology, Momma's professors at WVWesleyan told her that if she could somehow scrape together enough money to pay for one semester's tuition and books, that would be all she'd ever have to pay. She'd surely get a full-ride scholarship to finish her schooling.  Unfortunately, that was not possible in 1944.  But mother got her education, if not a diploma.  She read every text book that Poppa brought home.  To this day, Momma remains the smartest person I've ever met, and that includes all the professors I knew at UC Berkeley and The University of Montana.  If only she'd had a chance.

Poppa received his STB (Bachelor of Sacred Theology) from Boston University in 1946, and had every intention of returning to the Mountain State.  Before they could pack up to leave Massachusetts, a District Superintendent recruiting new ministers asked Poppa, "Why do you want to go back to West Virginia?  There's a Methodist Church on every street corner.  Come out to Montana where we have wide open spaces and need people to fill them."  For whatever reasons, this appealed to my dad, and after driving back to Parkersburg to say good-bye to family and friends, my parents moved West.  Poppa's first church out of seminary was in Stevensville, Montana, and both Momma and Poppa fell in love with the Bitterroot Valley.

The Young Minister and His Wife
No idea as to where or when this was taken

It must have agreed with them, because three years later, I was born.  The pregnancy was difficult.  Three different times they rushed Momma to the hospital in Missoula, over thirty miles away in those days.  My parents had been married over fifteen years when I was born, and had lost two boys at birth years earlier.  The story I grew up with was that the doctors had told Momma she couldn't have children after the second son was born blue.  Yet here I am.  When I first saw the movie Steel Magnolias, I immediately caught the line from the Christmas Party scene where the other women surround M'Lynn saying "I thought the doctors said Shelby couldn't have children."  M'Lynn, played by Sally Fields in the movie, responds "No.  They said she shouldn't have children.  There's a difference."  The next time I saw Momma, I asked if I had misunderstood all these years.  That's when I found out parents often change their stories as their children grow.  Momma's response to me was "I don't know why you would think that.  Your father and I never stopped trying to have children."  Well, apart from the fact that no one wants to think of their parents having sex, there was only one reason I had that thought.  Someone (Momma!) planted it in my head.

Mother and Child (Re)Union
Boulder River, Sweet Grass County, Montana
Summer, 1950

Poppa was busy as a minister.  In June, before I was born in October, Bishop Glenn Randall Phillips appointed Poppa to the yoked parish of Laurel-Park City, Montana, some 300 miles east of the Bitterroot and just fifteen miles from Montana's largest city, Billings.  While Momma was giving birth to me, Poppa gave birth to a new church building in Laurel.  Under his leadership, the Laurel church grew in size to the point where it no longer needed to be yoked to another church.  After five years at Laurel, Bishop Phillips appointed Poppa to Mountain View Church in Butte, a church that had been the largest Methodist Church in the state.  Both my parents were unhappy in Butte, and after a year and a half, Poppa accepted a special appointment as Executive Vice President at Rocky Mountain College in Billings.  And we moved again.  We actually moved three times in the three and a half years we lived in Billings, and my parents bought a beautiful home near downtown, but never lived in it.  In 1959, Poppa again got wunderlust, and we moved to Stockton, California where Poppa took a position in the President's Office at the University of the Pacific.

The job at Stockton turned out to be not at all what Poppa thought he was applying for, and before the year was out, Poppa asked Bishop Phillips for a church.  Phillips was happy to hear from Poppa, saying I need you in Ogden, Utah.  Poppa refused to move to Utah with a ten year old son, but Bishop Phillips would not be swayed.  "You'll take Ogden or nothing.  That's where I need you."  Poppa chose to move his membership to California, and we ended up moving to a small farming community 75 miles northwest of Sacramento, Colusa.

Colusa is in the Sacramento Valley and sits right on the Sacramento River.  In the summer time it's ungodly hot, and even though the community is a very prosperous faming town, raising primarily rice, almonds and prunes, the people have a poverty consciousness--or at least did back in 1960.  When my mother was told "We can't afford the best teachers," she was outraged.  She had a son going into junior high school.  "How can you afford to have anything but the best teachers," she asked.  After two years in Colusa, we moved again.   This time to the San Francisco Bay Area, the town of El Cerrito, to be specific.

El Cerrito did have excellent teachers, and my parents, who would never have considered moving to San Francisco prior to this, were happy there.  They ended up staying in the Bay Area for eleven years, and moved to California's North Coast in 1973, when Poppa was assigned to the church in Smith River.

Smith River is the last town in California as you head north on US 101 toward Oregon.  It sits almost exactly half way between Crescent City, California and Brookings, Oregon.  It was while they were in Smith River, that Poppa suffered a series of cardiac arrests that left him mentally damaged and unable to continue his pastorate.  For the last twelve years of his life, Momma was his sole care-giver.  When he died in 1988, I fully expected Momma to follow him to the grave.  They had been married for 54 years.  Her comment was "I'd gladly give him another 54."

50th Wedding Anniversary
Smith River, California
February, 1984

I stayed with Momma for two weeks after Poppa's death.  Each morning I woke up wondering if I'd find her dead, but toward the end of my stay, she took me aside and said, "I will get better!  I want you to take me to Ireland."  She did get better, but we never made it to Ireland, I'm sorry to say.  Momma lived for another 19 years after Poppa died.  When Poppa became incapacitated, my parents bought a lovely home in Smith River, and that's where Momma lived out the rest of her life.  She lived in Smith River longer than she had lived anywhere.

As long as Poppa was alive, I never heard Momma complain about anything, but after his death I did learn just how hard it had been for her living with him.  More to the point, following him from church to church, town to town, state to state.  All of Momma's siblings died in the same town where they were all born.  Where my grandparents were born.  Where at least some of my great-grandparents were born.  Most of my cousins living and dead never left Parkersburg.  Following her gypsy husband all over the country had to be difficult.  I do remember hearing Momma say "I want to go home.  I just don't know where home is."  I tried to get Momma to go back to West Virginia with me before my cousins Betty Lee and Lucille died, but Momma wouldn't hear of it.  She was settled now, and that was that.

Ethel Mae Spellman died the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 25th, 2006.  I miss her dearly to this day and I always will.  The best mother anyone could ever have.  By the way, the color photograph above of Mother and me on the Boulder River was taken by my father, a very talented amateur photographer.  It's my favorite of all the hundreds of photos I have of his.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Reading on a snowy day

Our Deck Yesterday Morning as seen by the camera on my iPad
January 5th, 2015
The days dwindle down
To a precious few,
September, November
And these few precious days
I'll spend with you
These golden days I'll spend with you.
--September Song, music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by Maxwell Anderson 
Click here to hear Sarah Vaughn's beautiful rendition of September Song.

We seem to have survived the major storm that was supposed to hit us and then sit on top of us for three days.  Things were different elsewhere, but here, thirteen miles from Paradise, we sat out the storm in comfort.  Well, I did.  Kevin got out at 5 a.m. to plow the local Conoco station's pumps and lot.  They liked his volunteer work so much last year that the owners gave him a gift certificate to our favorite restaurant.  This year, they engaged him in a semi-professional fashion, thanks to the good old barter system.  Yesterday, while he was busy at the station, the fellow from the bakery/café next door, The Butcher's Nook, came over and asked if Kevin would plow his business out as well.  Later on in the day, I got a call from one of Kevin's fireman buddies, a fellow we had plowed out several times last year (note the royal, or is it editorial "we"), asking if Kevin could help him this year.  I gave him Kevin's cell number, and sure enough Kevin headed up into the mountains to plow out Ron's driveway.

We probably got around eight inches of snow from the storm, but then the temperature started climbing.  Each time I checked our weather station on the deck throughout the morning, the temperature was reading 32 degrees Fahrenheit.  It warmed up to 36 by late afternoon, and the snow was sliding off our metal roof in large sheets.  If we're snowed in today, it's because of all the white stuff that came down from the roof, not out of the sky.  And with the temperature above freezing, the snow was turning to heavy wet stuff--the kind of conditions that give you a heart attack when you attempt to shovel clear your sidewalks.  I'm thinking about that right now.

Turkey in the Hay, Oh, Turkey in the Snow
January 5th, 2015

For the most part, I stayed in and read all day.  Oh I washed dishes and thought about fixing dinner.  A friend had posted a great looking recipe for crock-pot Stroganoff on Facebook, and I said "That's what I'm making for supper!"  But the recipe called for Campbell's Golden Mushroom soup, which is not a staple in my pantry, so I called Kevin to ask him to bring some home.  Kevin doesn't eat mushrooms, and pays no attention to the various varieties of fungi out there, so of course he brought home Western Family Cream of Mushroom soup concentrate.  Not at all the same thing, and besides, that is a staple in the pantry.  We had also used up all the stew beef from the freezer, so there was nothing to put in the crock pot.  Kevin dutifully returned to the store (and more plowing) and brought home stew meat and Golden Mushroom soup, so guess what's going in the crock pot for supper tonight.

Librarything.com has a challenge for its members to read 75 books in a year's time.  I've never counted how many books I read, but this seemed like a fairly easy challenge for me.  I'm the guy who, even as a literature major in college, would spend my breaks reading.  My classmates would be comparing notes about their winter break activities:  travel, skiing, visiting relatives, going home, and I would share that I read this, that, and the other thing.  They were amazed because, after all, we were reading so much just for our classes.  Yes, I'd answer, which keeps me from reading the things I want.  The only time to catch up with my pleasure reading is over the break.  Now I'm retired.  It's all break time.  Why not see about reading 75 books during 2015.  It's all the easier with programs like bookbub.com which allows me to load up my Kindle for next to nothing.  Actually, I rarely pay for a Kindle book these days.  There are too many I find interesting being offered for free on bookbub.com.  But in the spirit of there being "no free lunch,"  I do feel a bit of a compulsion to write short reviews of each book I read.  After all, if the author is willing to forego any royalties to get his/her book out in front of people, the least I can do is give the work a plug--especially if I liked what I read.


Several years ago, 2007 to be exact, I saw a movie at the theater in Crescent City that really spoke to me.  Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman starred in a story about a couple of old farts refusing to "go gentle into that good night."  By now, you probably know that I'm speaking of The Bucket List, a movie I heartily recommend to everyone.  I fear that it will only speak to a certain audience.  Younger folk will probably watch it and say, "Huh???"  But for those of us who understand the lyrics of September Song, The Bucket List is a great example of how to live out the remainder of our lives.  In a similar way, Elaine Ambrose's Midlife Cabernet provides plenty of life lessons for the AARP crowd.  It was my first book for 2015, and I recommend it highly.  I know that my friend Carl will agree that there's never a bad reason to lift a glass of red.  I laughed most of the way through this light hearted look at "life, love and laughter after fifty," but was caught too in poignant memories as Ambrose spoke of that period when we become our parents' parent.


I finished my first book on Sunday, and Monday opened a new one on my Kindle, Mark Henrikson's Origins.  I don't read a lot of science fiction, these days, but still consider it one those genres I enjoy.  I even had the thought, back when I was a student of literature, of writing a critical history of the genre going back at least to Voltaire's 1752 work, Micromégas or Montesquieu's 1721 work, Lettres persanes, which I believe still fits the overall perview of the genre.  Whether we're talking Wells, or Verne, or Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke or Ray Bradbury, just to mention a few, Science Fiction at its best forces us to look at ourselves and our beliefs through new, alien as it were, eyes.  In Henrikson's book, three stories are being told simulataneously, all of which come together at the end.  It's a retelling of the story of Exodus, with modern connections, and was marvelous fun. It's also the first in a series of books by Henrikson, all of which retell history with a twist.  I can't wait to pick up the next book, set in ancient Rome.

Sourdough Whole Wheat Bread Fresh from the Oven
January 5th, 2015

I didn't spend all my day reading.  I grabbed the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook I picked up a Costco a while back, and decided to try my hand at their no-knead sourdough bread.  This involved getting out my stone-wheel grinder and grinding 1 1/2 cups of wheat berries, then mixing that up with sourdough starter, water and unbleached white bread flour, letting it sit for a while, then mixing in honey and salt, and letting it sit for a while.  Take the dough out of the bowl, fold it in thirds, fold it in thirds again, and let it sit for a while.  Repeat, twice more (no lathering though), and finally forming it into a boule and letting it sit for a while, in this case letting it rise inside the room temperature cast-iron dutch oven that I bought precisely for baking bread.   With all that time spent letting the dough sit, I got a lot of reading done, and the loaf didn't come out of the oven until almost 7 pm.  But Kevin loves bread fresh out of the oven, so we cut off a couple of slices and all I can say is that it's yummy.

I don't think it dropped below freezing last night, and this morning when I checked the temperature, it was at 36.  Still is, as of five minutes ago.  I had to take another photo of the deck, just for comparison purposes.  See if you can spot the difference after 24 hours of above freezing temperatures.  Now, as it's the Feast of the Epiphany, it's time to take down the Christmas decorations for another year.  Happy Three Kings Day, Y'all!

Our Deck
January 6, 2015


Friday, January 2, 2015

Thompson River Blues

The Clark Fork River and Coeur d'Alene Mountains
Sanders County, Montana
December 31st, 2014

Wednesday, December 31st, was a beautiful day, clear and cold, and much too pretty to spend indoors.  Accordingly, having finished a few chores, I spent several minutes working to get the snow off my car and the ice off the windshield.  Once I could see out, I made sure I had my camera and GPS unit, and hit the road heading for Thompson Falls.  I love taking pictures of the scenery in this area, and when I saw a wide spot on the side of the road with a clear view of the river and mountains, I stopped the car and caught the scene above.  This is where I live, people.  Eat your hearts out.

Back in 2006, when I bought my first GPS unit, I managed to find 37 caches, mostly in Del Norte County California and Curry and Josephine Counties, Oregon.  My best year was 2007, when I took my GPS with me on my 6,000 Mile Sunday Drive and found 121 caches as far away as West Virginia and Tennessee.  Between May 2, 2010 and February 2, 2012, I put my GPS away and spent no time out looking for caches.  In Geocaching terms, this is called a "slump," and that period was my longest slump to date, 641 consecutive days.  At the beginning of 2014, I had found a total of 176 caches in seventeen states, but none outside the U.S.  All that changed in the year just ended.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
(Ovis canadensis)
Just beyond the Watch for Bighorn Sheep Ahead sign
Montana Highway 200, Sanders County
December 31st, 2014

When I pulled out my GPS on April 1, I went for a drive and found four caches hidden along MT Highway 28, all less than ten miles from home, as the crow flies.  I spent three more days during April searching for those Tupperware containers in the woods, found 27, and vowed that by the end of 2014, I would have found a total of 300 caches.  On a trip to Cranbrook, British Columbia, I got my first non-US caches, and I logged my 300th cache on December 18.  As I approached my goal, I decided that in 2015, I would find an additional 200, to bring my total life finds to 500.  With my Christmas present in hand, I set out to see what more I could find before the New Year, getting a start on my 2015 goal, as it were.

The Clark Fork Valley Geocachers, a group I really have to spend more time with, have been very active in this area.  They have hidden at least 54 caches alongside MT Highway 200 in a series they call Montana's Own Scenic Byway, or MOSBY, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.  They have also hidden a series of caches along the Thompson River, by the side of the road the Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM) built when they were logging in this area getting timbers for their mine shafts.  The ACM Road parallels the river for the most part on its east side, while the county road follows the river on the west side.  As a result, there are two roads running parallel to each other, roughly 100 yards apart, but separated by a river.  In Montana, this is highly unusual.  The two roads are roughly 40 miles in length, stretching from MT 200 in the south to US Highway 2 in the north.  And no, it's not a short cut to Libby as neither road is well maintained and under the best of conditions, you're going to be driving at 25-30 mph.

My Turn-Around Point
ACM Road by the Thompson River
December 31st, 2014

The cache chain on the ACM Road is called, appropriately enough the ACM Express, or ACME for short.  To date there are 372 ACME caches in place, roughly one every tenth of a mile.  If I were to spend all my geocaching time on the Thompson River, I would easily reach my 500 for 2015, and have a few left over.  Determined to get a head start on that goal, I loaded my GPS with some of the ACME caches, and set off to end the year with 325 finds.

I had already found a few of the ACME caches nearest the southern end, and roughly ten more in the middle where the cross road comes through the mountains from my home, so on this beautiful, if very cold day, I headed up the road about four miles before I turned around to work my way back.  I was wearing jeans, sneakers, a polo shirt, sweatshirt, and jacket.  I had a cap, but no gloves.  There was snow on the ground.  Am a I fool or what?  I've lived in Montana most of my life.  I know that when you go outside and the day's high is around 10 degrees Fahrenheit, you should have all extremities covered.  But I don't think I've worn winter gloves since we moved to Plains over two years ago--except for my abortive attempts at cross-country skiing around the property, and I'm not sure where my winter gloves are.  Mittens won't work when you're trying to press small buttons on a GPS unit and need to open pill bottles and write on rolled up pieces of paper.  (That's what you do to let the cache owner know that yes, you did find the thing.  You're not lying about it on line.)

They're Called The Rocky Mountains
Cabinet Mountain Range
December 31st, 2014

Most of the ACME caches are fairly easy to find.  Most of the ones I've found are hidden in something called "preforms" and are hanging from a branch on a tree.  This way they are usually above the snow line, and theoretically at least, can be found any time of the year.  The first cache I sought was ACME #24, and sure enough, there it was hanging from a branch hidden behind a tree just off the eastern edge of the road.  I found ACME #23 easily enough and began to feel that this would be a very successful day.

ACME #22 eluded me though, and after spending enough time looking that I was beginning to notice the cold, I said "Enough," and moved on down the road.  Number 21 was there, but try as I might, I couldn't find #20.  I was beginning to wonder if I would be finding every other cache, when #19 jumped out at me from the road.  I'm not used to being able to see the hanging "preform" without scrambling around a bit, so I was quite surprised to find this one perfectly visible.  All I had to do was wade through the snow and lift it off its branch.  I saw #18 from the roadbed as well, but for #17, I had to scramble a bit.  Actually I had to get down on my hands and knees and crawl up the bank to get behind the trees.  My hands were really hurting by now--or perhaps they were numb.  It was hard to uncap the container, and even harder to make my long entry legible.  I decided that if I were to not lose my hands to frostbite, I'd better call it a day.

I had set as my goal finding seven caches.  I was prepared to find more, if conditions warranted, but with fingers so numb I couldn't even attach my seat belt, I needed to quit.  There were a couple of easy grabs near Thompson Falls, so I drove back to the highway and headed west a few more miles.  At the turnoff for the High School, I turned right, then left and parked in the school's parking lot.  No one was around on New Year's Eve, except for a few families sledding down the hill on the east of the school.  I was headed for the fitness track on the west, looking for the fourth in a series of caches hidden to teach students how to use GPS units.  The hint for this cache was "Under a log," and I found it right away.  Unfortunately, the log and the associated bits of wood and bark hiding the cache were all frozen to the ground.  Even so, I was able to extract the cache, sign the log, and put the whole thing back together so that the only clue to its existence would be my tracks through the snow--easily hidden with the storm that is supposed to come in the next couple of days.

Ice on the Thompson River
December 31st, 2014

With that "Summer Fun" cache notched onto my belt, I finished 2014 with a total of 325 caches, and now have only 175 more to find for 2015.  Or do you think I might even do more?  By the way, with the addition of the caches I found with my new Garmin GPS unit in December, 2014 is now my best year so far, with 149 finds.  2015 will be even better, and I'll be keeping you informed.  Thanks for reading my posts, and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Let it Snow

Interstate 90 at the Van Buren Street Interchange
Missoula, Montana
December 28, 2014

Whenever I tell Kevin I love him, he always asks "Why?" even though he knows this question drives me crazy.  Last Sunday, December 28th, provided a good example to show just why this man is so important to me.  He is the most generous man I know.

The day brought snow and cold temperatures, and during the night a lot of snow had fallen.  As we headed out for breakfast, Kevin asked if I thought our friend Mike would need to have his driveway plowed out.  Mike has been given a temporary position in Seeley Lake, which is about 60 miles northeast of Missoula, and one of the places in our region that gets a lot, and I mean A LOT of snow.  I gave Mike a call and found him with his mother in Missoula, but he would be heading up to Seeley in the early afternoon because he had no idea what he would find there.  We agreed that after breakfast, we would drive into Missoula, meet him, and follow him to his Seeley Lake home.  Just in case.

After breakfast, we made a quick drive home to pick up my camera (ALWAYS take your camera) and also to throw the chains into the back of the pickup.  I should note that Kevin has a big-ass plowing blade that in the winter usually lives on the front of the pickup.  He uses it to not only plow our third of a mile driveway, but also to plow out the rural fire station, the ambulance barn's parking lot, and the local Conoco station.  If you have a need for plowing, just call Kevin and he'll probably come as quickly as he can.  But with the kind of snow we were anticipating in Seeley, he knew he'd best have the tires chained as well.

The Blackfoot River near Angevine Park
No, this is not a black and white photo
December 28, 2014

What started out as a quick trip home came to a halt near the bottom of our driveway where we found our "next-door" neighbor on his knees putting chains on a Honda sedan that was half buried in the snow on the side of the road that leads to our driveway.  A young man was standing by the car, and occasionally assisting in tightening the chains.  Turns out our neighbor's son and his family had left the house to return to their home, and when they tried to turn off the driveway into the county road, they continued to slide across the road and into the snow bank on the far side.

After kibitzing for a while, during which time another neighbor showed up to lend his advice, our neighbor went back to his house to put chains on his own truck, and we headed home to throw the chains in the back of ours.  I took advantage of the time at home to load a few geocaches into my new Garmin so that I could show off my Christmas present to Mike.  As we headed back out, we found our neighbor ready to tow his son's car out of the ditch, and we waited patiently until the car was safely back on the road.  Only then did we set off for Missoula, almost an hour after we had expected to be on our way.

The roads between Plains and Missoula were wintry, to put it mildly.  As we approached the WYE where US 93 heads north after crossing Interstate 90, we began to hear radio chatter talking about a multi-car accident in the westbound lanes of the interstate.  Because of Kevin's present and past work with Search and Rescue, the Rural Fire Department and the Ambulance Corps, he has a police scanner in the truck which is always turned on.  As we listened, the Highway Patrol asked that the interstate be closed, at least westbound, because the traffic was making the situation worse by the moment.  When we first heard the call, there were two semis, a tow truck, and numerous private cars all involved in the wreck.  The Highway Patrol, understandably, wanted to minimize further damage.

Looking East from Greenough Hill
December 28, 2014

By the time we got to the WYE ourselves, a patrol car was blocking the westbound onramp and we were hearing that somehow the patrol had managed to block the interstate itself so that westbound traffic was forced to exit.  We, however, were heading east, so we drove past the westbound onramp, and took the large loop leading onto the eastbound lanes.  I also took the time to call Mike and tell him that we were, at least, much closer and should be at his place in fifteen to twenty minutes (ten miles away by the highway, but such were the conditions).  Mike suggested that conditions were getting worse by the minute, and he wasn't comfortable with us trying to follow him another fifty miles.  We agreed to leave it up to Kevin, as he was driving, and Mike agreed to wait for us to reach his house.

Streets in Missoula were a mess, but Mike lives relatively close to the Orange Street off-ramp, and we were soon parked in the alley behind his house.  Mike came out with two shopping bags full of books, four hymnals and a fourteen volume set of Elbert Hubbard's Little Journeys, printed in 1916, that he had inherited from his father, former Missoula Symphony Director Joseph Henry.  Knowing how much I love playing hymns, not to mention reading, Mike thought that I would appreciate having these books, and he's absolutely right.  I'll write more about Hubbard's stories in a future post.

Back on the Interstate heading east, I really was having second thoughts about the whole venture, especially considering that we would be driving back home in the dark with the storm apparently worsening by the second now.  We were still hearing chatter about the accident on the Interstate, and in a telling comment on how dysfunctional our state government has become, the Highway Patrol had not been able to get any response from the Montana Department of Transportation concerning closing the highway.  At this point, we had been hearing all the communications for over a hour, and could confirm, if anyone were to ask, that MDT was not responding.  It was at this point I took the first picture shown above which should give you an idea of just what the weather was doing to the highway.

In my experience, if conditions in Missoula are bad, then conditions along Montana 200 as it follows the Blackfoot River are usually worse.  I was really not looking forward to the next forty miles.  You can tell just how little light there was by the lack of color in the photo of the river.  And as I noted above, that is NOT a black and white photo.  I have done nothing to subtract any color from the original shot.

Pyramid Peak and the Bob Marshall Wilderness
Seeley Lake, Montana
December 28, 2014

Fortunately, the road was not as bad as I had feared, and east of the community of Potomac, we actually began seeing some, not a lot, but some color in the sky.  Cresting Greenough Hill, we saw the sun shining on the peaks of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and that created the gorgeous winter scene shown above.  By the time we turned off MT 200 onto MT 83 for the last fourteen miles north to Seeley Lake, the road was clear.  I had hoped to get some good winter shots of Salmon Lake, but all we saw was a vast snow field where the lake normally lies.  There were a couple of ice fishing shacks up toward the north end of the lake.

Arriving at Mike's place, we found that someone had already plowed him out.  I asked if the shop needed plowing, but Mike assured me that someone would already have done that.  But, one of his co-workers was hard at work at home trying to clear his own driveway with a snow blower.  We got directions and headed over that way.

While Mike chatted with his co-worker, Kevin got busy plowing the driveway and access road.  He decided against putting on the chains, as it was getting late in the day, and without the chains, he couldn't do much about the high buildup on the sides of the road, except make them higher as he drove the plow back and forth along the road.  After six or so passes, he said he'd done about as much as he could, under the circumstances, and we picked up Mike and drove him back to his place.

Boy Scout Road, East Side of Seeley Lake
December 28, 2014

In Missoula, we stopped at El Cazador for supper.  Kevin had his normal Steak Fajitas and I had Chile Relleno a la Jarocha, which meant the that filling included shrimp and crab meat.  Very good.  I recommend it.  The streets of Missoula were, by this time, mostly ice covered, and still people drove way too fast for the conditions.  I wasn't sure if I'd be able to walk the half block back to where we had parked, but taking it slow and easy, I made it to the truck, and with Kevin driving judiciously, we made it home safe and sound.

Can you see why I love him so?  Who else would offer to drive 140 miles, one-way, on the off chance that a friend would need to have his driveway plowed?  And then, upon finding that the friend didn't need help after all, would volunteer to help a total stranger?  He's a good man, and I eagerly look forward to seeing what our lives bring in 2015.

Happy New Year!